,2 B. POLEVOI The forest hummed with faint sounds. The resinous tree stump smouldered, giving off a mild, fragrant smoke that reminded Alexei of incense. The small flames flickered, now burning brightly, now dying down, causing the trunks of the golden pines and silvery birches to stand out in a circle of light and then to recede into the murmuring gloom. Alexei threw some more brushwood on the fire and shelled some more cones. The smell of cedar^ oil ^re- called to his mind a long-forgotten scene of his child- hood___A small room crowded with familiar objects. The table under the lamp hanging from the ceiling. His mother, in holiday attire, just returned from vespers, solemnly taking a paper bag from the chest and emptying cedar nuts from it into a bowl. The whole family— Mother, Grandmother, his two brothers and himself, the youngest of all—sitting round the table and the solemn shelling of cedar nuts—the holiday luxury—beginning. Nobody uttered a word. Grandmother pried the kernels out with a hairpin, Mother did the same with a pin. She skilfully cracked the shells with her teeth, extracted the kernels and collected them on the table; and when she had quite a heap, she swept them into the palm of her hand and put the lot into the open mouth of one of the children; and the fortunate one felt her hand against his lips; it was rough and toil-worn, but this being a holiday, it smelt of scented soap. Kamyshin ... childhood! It was cosy living in that tiny house on the outskirts of the town! ... But here, amidst the noises of the forest, your face is burning hot while the piercing cold strikes you in the back. An owl is hooting in the darkness, the yapping of a fox is heard. Huddled at a fire and gazing thoughtfully at the dying, flickering embers, sat a hungry, wounded and mortally weary man, alone in this vast, dense forest; and before him, in the darkness, lay an unknown road, full of un- expected dangers and trials. "Never mind, everything will be all right!" the man suddenly exclaimed, and by the light of the last red flicker of the fire one could have seen his cracked lips stretch in a smile at some remote thought.